I just watched a presentation by Cornell University entomologist Elson Shields which included the progress being made in controlling field crop insect pests with “friendly” nematodes. When most farmers think if nematodes it’s the species that are plant pests. but these nematodes only attack beetle larvae. Cornell has been working for years now on developing species of nematodes that control alfalfa snout beetle, a devastating alfalfa pest for which there’s no chemical control. That project is going well, but now they’re looking at the possibility that the same friendly nematodes may also kill corn rootworm larvae. So far the results are encouraging–but preliminary. This is potentially a very big deal, for two reasons:
1. While alfalfa snout beetles are only a known problem in a handful of upstate NY counties, corn rootworms are very widespread.
2. The problem with rootworms genetically resistant to the Bt traits found in corn hybrids continues to get worse, with no sign that plant breeders will overcome the resistance problem.
It’s still early and Dr. Shields is being very cautious about claiming a breakthrough, but this is a topic well worth following as research continues.